Illinois soccer can’t extend winning streak at Penn State

By Joey Figueroa

It was a hard-fought weekend of two Big Ten matches on the road, but No. 19 Illinois soccer returns home with just one win.

After cruising to a 4-1 victory at Ohio State on Friday, Illinois could not stretch its winning streak to five games against the relentless attacking of No. 8 Penn State on Sunday.

The Illini (9-3-0) kept the Big Ten’s top offense in check until the 63rd minute when the Nittany Lions’ top goal-scorer Frannie Crouse found the back of the net to give Penn State (10-1-0) its first lead of the game.

That lead did not last long, however. Just 47 seconds after the game’s first goal, senior forward Jannelle Flaws nailed a shot from the center of the box to tie the game 1-1. The goal was Flaw’s 14th of the season and was assisted by junior defender Amy Feher. The goal also gave Flaws a school-record five-straight matches with at least one goal.

“Jannelle was a marked woman today and still managed to score an incredible goal,” head coach Janet Rayfield said. “Her persistence is part of what makes her a great goal scorer.”

After 20 minutes of neck-and-neck battling, Penn State sophomore Salina Williford netted the game-winning shot in the 84th minute, and the Nittany Lions escaped with a 2-1 victory.

The Illini allowed a season-high 19 shots to the Nittany Lions, but goalkeeper Claire Wheatley kept them in the game with her season-high eight saves. Despite the loss, Rayfield took nothing away from her team.

“Our effort was there today, it was just our execution that was off,” head coach Janet Rayfield said. “I love the grit this team trains and plays with, and today we were gritty. We can perform better and more together, but we left it all on the field, and I am proud of this team for that.”

Illinois played with plenty of grit in both contests, but saw better results in Friday’s match at Ohio State (4-6-0).

Flaws scored early in each half, and sophomore midfielder Casey Conine added one more score in the 83rd minute for good measure. The Illini defense kept up its record pace by limiting its eighth straight opponent to single-digit shots, and Illinois coasted to a 4-1 victory.

“Today, it was a different kind of battle,” Rayfield said after Friday’s match. “It was a physical battle. They kept coming at us, so it wasn’t tactically solving anything. It was being gritty and not letting them get past us or win balls. We have said it all along that our entire team is defending right now. It is our attitude as much as our aptitude that is limiting teams to single-digit shots.”

Illinois is now 4-2-0 in Big Ten play and is in the top five in the conference.

Joey can be reached at [email protected] and on Twitter @joeyfigueroa3.